Massimo Luciani

The spaceplane SpaceShipTwo connnected to its mothership White Knight Two

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced the conclusions of the investigation on the incident that on October 31, 2014 caused the destruction of Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane SpaceShipTwo with the consequent death of its co-pilot and the injuring of its commander. It turned out that the co-pilot unlocked the braking system too early and the SpaceShipTwo design included no security system to avoid the catastrophic consequences of that mistake.

Topographic map of the dwarf planet Ceres (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

NASA published the first topographic maps of the dwarf planet Ceres made using data collected by its Dawn space probe. They show a very diverse surface, full of craters and mountains with differences between the bottom of the craters and the mountain peaks that can reach 15 kilometers (about 9 miles). Meanwhile, the IAU (International Astronomical Union) approved a series of names for various geological features of Ceres.

The silica-rich rock fragment called Lamoose analyzed by the Mars Rover Curiosity (Photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

In recent days, the Mars Rover Curiosity deviated from its programmed route to examine a rock particularly rich in silica. It’s a material composed of silicon and oxygen common in terrestrial rocks in the form of quartz. On Mount Sharp, where Curiosity is working, on its way it took a sample near the area called “Marias Pass”. The results of the analysis were so interesting that the mission team decided to turn it back.

Area on Pluto where there are flowing glaciers (Photo NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The scientists working at NASA’s New Horizons mission keep on analyzing the photographs that the spacecraft is sending after its July 14, 2015 flyby with the dwarf planet Pluto. The ones received in recent days show that in the heart-shaped area there are flowing glaciers and that in the atmosphere there are thick layers of haze that reach an altitude of 130 kilometers (about 80 miles).

A comparison of the Kepler-452 system with the solar system and the Kepler-186 system (Image NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt)

NASA announced the discovery of the planet Kepler-452b made using the Kepler space telescope. It has an orbit similar to that of the Earth around a star similar to the Sun. This puts it well within the habitable zone of its star system because the star Kepler-452 is just a little bigger and brighter than the Sun so if on the planet Kepler-452b there was an atmosphere similar to the Earth’s, water could exist in liquid form.